Friday, March 29, 2013

"50 Years of Bond" Retrospective - #22: Quantum of Solace

With Casino Royale making such a splash back in 2006, EON was quick to get their next film out, and contracted Daniel Craig for more Bond films. Quantum of Solace (meaning a small amount of comfort amidst sorrow or disappointment) was that next film. Release anticipation was hyped up to extremes, and… the title bore an ironic metaphor. While fans and critics certainly gave it positive notices, it failed to generate the same passionate love that Casino Royale had. And while I certainly can get behind that same sentiment that’s it’s not as good as the previous film, there’s still some REALLY good and fascinating stuff in this movie. If you’ve seen my reviews of Diamonds Are Forever, Thunderball, and Moonraker, you know I’m quite critical of follow ups to great movies, but this movie is doing exactly what I want it to do. It’s a proper continuation showing how the previous film’s events affected Bond, and NOT a rehash. This movie’s better than any of those follow ups.

Picking up an hour after the events of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace sees a Bond blinded by the loss of his love, Vesper Lynd. Doing it as much to satisfy his need for revenge as it is to accomplish the task for his superior M, Bond begins investigating the case of philanthropist Dominic Greene, a high-up member of the secret organization Quantum (think of it as a modern day SPECTRE) whose plan is to seize control of massive water supplies in Bolivia. In addition to finding the person responsible for Vesper’s death, he’s also joined by a woman with her own desires for revenge for the murder of her family.

Viewing it from an artistic standpoint, this movie literally has very little comfort to be felt. The main focus of this movie is actually what it should be: Inner turmoil. Keeping true to the realism and grit that made Casino Royale so strong in the first place, Quantum ups that feeling with much more grim glimpses into obsession, loss, and even hatred. The film is directed by Marc Forster, who doesn’t shy away from diving into these unpleasant issues, and he gets the best possible performances from his cast.

Just like in the last film, the filmmakers, and Daniel Craig, are wise to give more value to Bond’s actual character rather than making him the typical Connery charmer. Here, we see a damaged Bond suffering from a filtered sorrow, making him more human than in many previous incarnations. Working terrifically against this is Olga Kurylenko, whose character serves as sort of a morality lesson for Bond, but suffers from her own vices to keep her feeling unique rather than like a stencil. The villain is the kind of villain you would expect, motivated by goals such as domination and wealth. No surprises there, but the performance of Mathieu Amalric adds subtle mannerisms adding to the character’s personality.

Which now brings us to the flaws of Quantum of Solace. For the most part, the action is very good, but it feels like the studio got ahold of The Bourne Ultimatum, and decided to use that same style for specific sequences. In fact, the film’s stunt coordinator, Gary Powell, actually worked on The Bourne Ultimatum. The problem, however, is that the usage of shaky cam is quite jarring. It’s used incredibly well at times, but at other points (like the opening car chase), it’s too incoherent. There’s also a particular problem with CG usage. Thankfully, the digital tools are nowhere near as exploited as they were in Die Another Day, but they’re still noticeable.

I mentioned in my review of Casino Royale that I thought that film was a little on the long side. By contrast, I think Quantum of Solace may be too short. It’s still giving the characters the focus that they need, but I couldn’t help but want more of it. Maybe if the film had been 10-15 minutes longer, gone a little slower, placed more emphasis on character and conversation, as well as reduced the usage of CGI and shaky cam, this could have bested Casino Royale. Heck, it could have even bested Goldfinger.

But, I’m unfairly judging the movie by what I wanted it to be rather than for what it is. What it is is still very impressive, doing precisely what a follow up is supposed to do. Opinions were still split when it was released, and it didn’t sell quite as well as Casino Royale had done, but it was still a success. EON was ready to get their next film out there, but numerous accidents in production led to a four year stall between the two films. We were all excited for the entry commemorating the 50th anniversary of the franchise, but I don’t think any of us could have possibly prepared for the greatness to come.

**** / *****

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